War!

World War II brought new forms of warfare around the world. No city had ever experienced the incendiary, aerial warfare that the German Luftwaffe began in Warsaw. After the Luftwaffe improved on this technique in Rotterdam on 14 May 1940, they too suffered the same treatment from the Allied air forces, most famously in Dresden. But all that destruction did not come from nothing. In planning their incendiary attacks on Japanese cities, US officials, for instance, explicitly referred to the earthquake and fire that Tokyo suffered in 1923 as evidence of the vulnerability of Japanese cities to large fires.

If the incendiary bombing had its inspiration in large urban fires, the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did, however, seem without precedent. All the techniques that maps of urban fires used to show the complexity of a fire’s movement over time would be superfluous on the map of the bombing of Hiroshima. The static form of the map, therefore, uncannily fits the practically instantaneous destruction of an entire city.